By pure chance Danny Thomas and Barry Manilow met on a plane crossing the country. Thomas, the founder and full-time fund-raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is not a man who misses an opportunity. And before he knew it, Manilow found himself agreeing to be the star attraction at the sixth annual dinner for the hospital. (Previous headliners have been Frank Sinatra, Thomas, Cab Calloway, Wayne Newton.)
Saturday, Aug. 31, was one of Manilow’s few free nights. But Rose Marie Thomas, Danny’s wife and the dynamo behind the galas, worried that it was the Labor Day weekend and that everyone would be out of town.
Up on stage after Manilow had finished his ovation-raising performance, Thomas pointed to the 1,800 people in the Century Plaza’s Los Angeles Ballroom. “Well, look,” he said, thrusting his ever-present cigar at the audience, “they’re all here.”
A new friendship blossomed. “He’s the greatest entertainer of this century,” Thomas said of Manilow. “He’s our own Mother Teresa.”
Last year, not wanting to compete with the Olympic Games, the Thomases decided not to stage a gala. “But you didn’t forget us,” Rose Marie Thomas told her friends. That year, even with no gala, the Thomases said they raised $400,000 and spent only $12,000.
“I keep telling her that’s the way to go,” Thomas said, after daughter Terre and son Tony had talked about their parents and the Thomas family’s dedication to St. Jude Hospital and its research into children’s catastrophic diseases. “But she won’t have it.”
Last year was a good year for another reason. The Thomases were riding out to a ball game with San Diego Padres owner Jane Kroc. Talking about St. Jude, the saint of the impossible, she told Danny that if he could put in a good word for her team, she’d donate $1 million to the hospital. The Padres won the National League pennant (but not the World Series) and Mrs. Kroc turned over her check. It bought a CAT scanner for the hospital. (Jane Kroc’s husband, the late Ray Kroc who started MacDonald’s hamburger chain, had already endowed the intensive care unit on St. Jude’s penthouse floor.)
Woman of the Year
Saturday night Jane Kroc received St. Jude’s Woman of the Year Award. Then she proposed another challenge. “If you can do it again, I’ll give you $5 million. I mean it,” she told Thomas. Danny shouted, “Let’s call Lasorda,” referring to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda.
Hal Gershman, the builder, industrialist and philanthropist, received the Man of the Year Award and said he hadn’t been “this nervous since my bar mitzvah.”
The St. Jude Founder’s Award, which had been awarded only once before, this year went to Gilbert R. Chagoury of Nigeria for his “unselfish dedication to St. Jude’s Hospital.”
There were more who deserved recognition--the hospital’s director Dr. Joseph V. Simone; Norman Mamey, who hosts the gala kick-off party each year; Nick Shammas, chairman of the fat program book; committee members like Josie Moshay, Marcia Hardy, Dan and Mura Lookabill, Mazie de Beaulieu; big donors like Dr. and Mrs. Nassir Al-Rahid of Texas and Saudi Arabia; Nat Dumont (his guests included Maureen Womack, Bob and Margie Petersen, Madame Sylvia and King Wu, the Joe Alpersons), Rams owner Georgia Frontiere and husband, Dominic; Donna and John Crean (among their guests were Mr. Blackwell and Robert Spencer); Carole and Paul Cramer (at their table were Fred and June MacMurray, Prince Alfonso de Bourbon); Hamburger Hamlet’s Marilyn and Harry Lewis (around their tables were Contessa Cohn with Jack Lowrance, Father Maurice Chase).
Raft of Celebrities
Celebrities were shoulder to shoulder with do-gooders, all of them dressed up for a very special black-tie night. Among them--Dinah Shore and Vikki Carr, sharing a table with Mayor Tom Bradley; Zsa Zsa Gabor; George Hamilton; Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Bridges; comedians Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Morey Amsterdam, Jack Carter and their wives. Plus Mrs. Harry Abramson, Rusty and Zena Hoffman, Chantal and Martin Stern, Art and Tichi Kassel, Frances and Sid Klein, Merrill and Grace Lowell, Happy and Frances Franklin, Vicky Reynolds with Murray Pepper, Sheriff Pete and Athena Pitchess, Sheriff and Mrs. Sherman Block, the Wink Martindales, Murray Schwartz, Barry Mirkin, Dr. and Mrs. Hal Millstone, Ellen and Berny Byrens, Sol and Alice Laykin, Houston’s Harold Farb with Julie York (they flew in just for the party), Sedge and Henry Plitt, Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon Leonard, Councilman and Mrs. John Ferraro, Jo Anne and Richard Le Bouvier, Isobel and Les Bronte.
Arthur Simon handled the black-and-white decor. Joe Moshay’s orchestra played during dinner. And Milton Williams, who had catered Rose Marie and Danny Thomas’ pre-gala dinner for donors Friday night, was overall coordinator for the menu.